This semester’s first-year students were shepherded by Andy Abad and Patrice Rushen, two GRAMMY-nominated professionals and professors of popular music performance in USC Thornton. There was no shortage of good words for them among the students. At the intermission, Abad thanked his young performers for their hard work and sang their praises, informing the audience that they were witnessing “the future of pop music.” It was easy to see that the thrill of performance was at the forefront of each performers’ mind space. Many of the performers did not face any anxiety before their sets. While she may find herself a bit nervous offstage in “party settings,” Balady noted that she doesn’t suffer from any pre-performance jitters. Mariah Quintero, a first-year pop music student, performs with cohort at Tommy’s Place on Wednesday night. (Lindsey Yu | Daily Trojan) “Performing is very much a mental thing,” Morcote said. “You just have to get in the mindset and have fun with it.” The night opened with an electric rendition of Sam & Dave’s “Hold On, I’m Comin’,” led by Quintero, a junior majoring in psychology who is entering her first year in the popular music program. Her magnetic stage presence and natural chemistry with her band set the tone for the night; it was clear from the start that this cohort wasn’t lacking in spirit nor talent. One performer, Tippy Balady, asked the audience for a little “Respect” before launching into a soulful rendition of Aretha’s finest. Song selection ranged from fast-tempo, high energy numbers, such as Amii Stewart’s “Knock On Wood,” to more reflective and romantic tracks, such as Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay.” The student performers had no trouble adjusting to the range of moods, finding their emotional base and engaging with whatever feelings the song demanded. Whether that called for sky-high ecstasy or subtle melancholy, they were tapped in. This proved to be a universal feeling among listeners, as many of the audience members found themselves standing up and dancing along to the soulful renditions of some of their favorite ’70s hits. It was very much a concert environment, and it would’ve been difficult not to crack a smile and bust a move while watching such a charming and lively group of young professionals. The Thornton School of Music’s first-year popular music students assembled at Tommy’s Place Wednesday for their first showcase. At the event, which was also their midterm, students divided into four bands to perform a set of ’70s Motown classics. Though their “first-year” label might imply inexperience, these students occupied the stage with uninhibited confidence, ready to put on a show. The performers’ sense of enjoyment was intoxicating. Their energy was infectious and lit up the basement at Tommy’s. For keyboardist Isabella Morcote, a freshman majoring in songwriting and popular music performance, getting in the right headspace was paramount. From the start of the night it was clear that this cohort — which welcomed themselves with a show-circle and group cheer — was a close one. Sam Bellavance, a freshman popular music major and bassist at Thursday night’s performance, recalls being extremely nervous for the first midterm in the fall, as he was unsure what to expect. But as time passed and the group became more comfortable, all nerves melted away. “It’s no ego, all love,” Quintero said. “This group really supports each other. We take each other to places we never would’ve imagined.” Throughout the night, there was no end to the adoration and gratitude the students felt toward Thornton’s faculty; it was clear they were all thankful to have a team of such encouraging and professional mentors. “The cohort becomes super tight within the first semester,” Bellavance said. “I love all of them, and I’ve been working gigs with some of the other singers too.” As she took the stage blinded by blue light and surrounded by an imposing crowd, Mariah Quintero was not one for nerves. She had put in the work and was ready to let that speak for itself. For her and her peers, that work spoke volumes. “Support” was the word of the night, as there was a tangible feeling of encouragement throughout the room. When the final performance of The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” began, much of the room stood to sing and dance along with them. As singer-songwriter Cordelia Degher, a freshman majoring in popular musical performance, belted the final note and the night’s journey came to an end, it felt like a triumph for the entire cohort. “I wasn’t nervous at all,” said Balady, a freshman majoring in songwriting. “I was more excited to perform and do my craft. On stage, it’s me being my truest self.” “Everyone is actually really encouraging,” Balady said. “A lot of people think that it’s a high stakes, high pressure situation, but … everyone’s really there to support and we all learn from each other.” This sentiment was echoed by freshman popular music student and bassist Austin Brown, who appreciated how quickly the group had transitioned from cohort to community. “We’re really just kind of like a family,” Brown said. Throughout the semester, students were given three songs each week to perform and master for class. Of these, four songs were selected for the final showcase. As the showcase was a midterm, some of the songs were repeated between the bands, but they never felt stale. Each group brought their own personal flair and artistic choice to the songs; some opted for more contemporary vocals, while others adhered more toward the gospel-influences of the original Motown artists. Though each group’s arrangement varied in approach, there was a consistent energy throughout the show that unified the four bands. While their classmates performed, other members of the cohort shouted cheers of encouragement and even took to the floor to dance along to their friends’ performances. “The faculty is unparalleled,” Quintero said. “They give us such individualized attention and want to see us grow.” Throughout the department, encouragement and enthusiasm were abound among students to staff.